Salem’s first rooftop bar touts strong drink, simple food and stellar views

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Shelley A. Sackett

Salem has no shortage of special summer attractions and activities.

From recreating at Salem Willows Park and Winter Island to enjoying the Essex Street Fair and Jazz and Soul, Salem Maritime and Salem Arts Festivals, there seems to be something happening every day guaranteed to suit almost every taste and age.

And, as of last month, those who crave a lively seasonal bar with a 360-degree view perched atop a snazzy new downtown hotel can have their specific summertime itch scratched too, with the opening of Salem’s first rooftop bar, aptly and simply named “The Roof.”

Casual high-top tables and plush banquette seating lend the bar a trendy, urban air that suits the slick retro décor of the hotel below. Although The Roof can accommodate 85 guests seated and an additional 150 more standing, its 18-seat rectangular bar fills quickly, especially on balmy, clear summer evenings and weekends.

Offering a casual menu of Mexican small plates and views of downtown Salem (and a sliver of a glimpse of the harbor), The Roof is above Salem’s newest hotel, The Hotel Salem, at 209 Essex Street. Its wood-paneled exterior walls, turquoise and lime green color scheme and live greenery produce the feeling of a hip, vibrant and modern outdoor space.

Glass barricades provide safety without compromising the views and a seasonal heating system will keep patrons toasty as summer fades to fall and Salem’s notoriously busy Halloween season. A retractable awning creates shade over the bar area.

Executive Chef Justin Perdue has created a menu of traditional and composed oysters, ceviche, six taco dishes and three inventive guacamole preparations designed for sharing. Recent standouts include Pork Belly Guacamole, Marinated Flank Steak Tacos with dates, pickled mushrooms and farmer’s cheese, and Roasted Eggplant Tacos.

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The small plates complement The Roof’s cocktail program that boasts three rotating seasonal cocktails on tap, fresh house-made frozen Frosé (frozen rosé), sangria and the usual craft beers and wine by the glass and bottle.

 

So far, the Frosé and various guacamole offerings have been the most popular items. To keep up with the volume, The Roof plans to buy another Frosé machine. As for guacamole, “we can go through 50-60 avocados on a busy day!” Perdue exclaimed.

He admits that managing The Roof’s wait list has been difficult. “During peak times we can have a wait list of almost two hours and hundreds of people. Once people get up there, they are happy and enjoy the atmosphere, but we’re still working to find a balance between turning tables quickly and inviting people to lounge around and relax,” he said. “It’s a fortunate position to be in.”

Nonetheless, Perdue said overall response to the rooftop bar has been strong and positive. “We have been busy since day one. When we opened in June, the amount of people who immediately went out of their way to visit really blew us away,” he said.

Although The Roof has no special events planned for this summer, Perdue said he looks forward to exploring different programs in seasons to come. He also plans to add more tables and chairs to accommodate more guests and “hopefully bring the waitlist down.”

In the meantime, those anxious to check out Salem’s first rooftop bar are advised to come early and bring plenty of patience.

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More Than Just Pizza and Spaghetti

 

 

Anyone who has traveled to Italy and had the great fortune to eat even one dinner in Lucca knows that not only is the town a draw in its own right, with its enclosed walls and lovely broad parks, but that its food is also among Italy’s most compelling.

 

If Lucca is not on your 2017 agenda (or within your budget), Salem can dish up the next best thing: Vittorio Ambrogi, Lucca native and executive chef at Trattoria Orsini, located in the previous Grapevine space at 26 Congress Street.

 

The former chef of the Grapevine (where his wife Stacy was one of the owners), Ambrogi has created a modern Italian menu that features dishes ranging from chopped salads to grilled octopus to his special “Orsini Meatballs” (veal, beef and pork meatballs braised in Chianti tomato sauce with Cavatelli pasta).

 

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Ambrogi’s famous pasta Bolognese

 

Ambrogi’s accent is as deliciously Tuscan as his cuisine, and he peppers the conversation with “pero” (Italian for “but”) and other Italian phrases. When asked what are some of his favorite dishes to cook, he lets loose with a belly laugh and says, “Risotto and sauce. You can’t go too far from the sauce in Italian.”

 

According to Michael Gajewski, a Trattoria Orsini General Manager (“I’m really just a glorified busboy,” he joked), although the chef and space are the same as the Grapevine’s, the new restaurant differs in significant ways. Major renovations included adding expanded patio space and creation of a different “look” with new furniture, a sleek bar, and two rooms with cozy tables where diners can enjoy quiet and intimate conversations as well as terrific food.

 

However, what has remained the same is what makes Trattoria Orsini as special as the Grapevine was. “Having Vittorio and a lot of the old staff back, and of course Vittorio’s food and his nightly specials” are what patrons are happiest about. And of course, everyone is looking forward to spring and summer on our beautiful new patio,” he said.

 

The new restaurant opened last summer with over 4,000 square feet of interior dining and a 2,000+ square foot patio. Completing renovations, equipment procurement, permitting, staffing and menu production were among the biggest challenges, according to Gajewski.

 

Among the menu’s most popular items are the meatballs, risotto, arancini (rice balls), shrimp scampi, octopus, cod and, of course, Ambrogi’s famous Bolognese sauce. The chef added the Grilled Octopus appetizer (accompanied by fried black polenta, olives, capers and fresh tomato sauce) as an item unique to the new restaurant. The dish was not on the Grapevine menu, and has been a huge crowd pleaser.

 

His Pan Roasted Cod dish, while among the most popular entrees, is not really an Italian dish as far as Ambrogi is concerned, because Italians don’t have access to the same kind of fish Americans do. “Cod is not a very popular fish in Italy. It’s not as meaty and juicy as it is here. It’s also a smaller fish,” he said.

 

While Ambrogi loves cooking and creating inventive and delicious nightly specials, he also likes his days off. Last Monday and Tuesday he took advantage of the recent snowfalls and decided to go skiing at his favorite place, Sunapee, which is “always fun”.

 

The Tuscan chef has been cooking for over 27 years, including almost 20 at the Grapevine where he developed quite a loyal following. He reflected on his long career and devoted patrons, and added modestly, “We’ve been putting out pretty decent food for many years and we are still doing that.”

 

Trattoria Orsini is located at 26 Congress Street and is open from 4 p.m. until 12:30 a.m. For reservations, call (978) 594-8048 or visit trattoriaorsini.com.